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What Is the Difference between a VCR and a DVD Player?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The main difference between a video cassette recorder (VCR) and a digital versatile disc (DVD) player is the kind of media each uses. A VCR relies on analog magnetic video cassette tapes, which is entirely different than the digital disc-based technology used in DVDs. The tapes in VCRs usually provide lower image quality than DVDs and often have a lot of noise in the images that may appear as static. DVDs are generally able to provide a better image and hold more data. One other major difference between a VCR and a DVD player is that most VCRs have the capacity to record, while this is a less common feature on DVD players.

VCRs are analog, while DVDs are digital, which could be considered one of the most fundamental differences between a VCR and a DVD player. On a basic level, digital technology uses numbers to store data and is designed to be read by computer equipment. Analog media uses the power and distance separating electrical pulses to translate data into something usable. In many cases, digital media technology is naturally more versatile, and this is definitely true in the case of DVDs in comparison to VHS tapes. DVDs can be used to store everything from movies to computer programs, and while there have been tape technologies with more versatility, VHS tapes are generally only used for audio and video.


Another big difference between a VCR and a DVD player is the durability of the different kinds of media. In this area, both have different advantages. VHS tapes tend to degrade over time, but they're very tough when it comes to resisting physical damage because of their sturdy outer casing. DVDs can easily be scratched, which can totally destroy them, but if they never suffer physical damage, they are potentially semi-permanent and don't experience any data degradation.

VCRs play cassettes known as VHS tapes.
VCRs play cassettes known as VHS tapes.

A VCR and a DVD player can both be used to record programs for viewing later, but it is not as common for DVD players to include this feature. This is partly because DVDs are in direct competition with digital video recorder technology that relies on a hard disc, a generally a more popular way of archiving programs digitally. In the case of video cassette players, there are a few that don't have the ability to record, but most of them do, and this has almost always been a big selling point for the technology.

Discussion Comments


I think the article nailed this one on the head: VHS tapes and VCRs are still around right now because they give anybody the ability to just record off of their TV.

DVD discs and DVD players, thanks in part to worrying about illegal copying and selling of bootlegged DVDs, have made it difficult for the average person to copy a DVD, or to record right off of their TV anymore. In fact, most people require TiVo or some other digital recording device that makes a temporary copy for them to be able to record at all.

I don't know about you, but when I record something, it is because I want to keep it for good. Naturally, people don't want anybody to have the ability to do that these days, or they might not go out and buy the official DVD release.

Yet again, I don't know about anybody else out there, but when I love a TV series, I support it and am excited to buy the DVD release. I only buy the full boxed sets, though, not the individual DVDs, so for stuff that isn't completed enough to release a boxed set yet, I like to record it.


@icecream17 - My library's the same way! They have some DVDs, but the majority of their video selection is still on VHS. I'm not sure if this is because I live in a small town, because libraries are usually slow to update things if they still work well the old way, or if it's because my local library relies mostly on donations to get new stock. Maybe it's a combination of all three?

At any rate, libraries are going to have to update and maybe reinvent themselves if they want to compete with the other forms of movie-watching available these days. Many people have their own personal computers to watch movies online on something like Netflix, and I'm sure it's a similar problem for libraries as for DVD and VHS rental places: they're losing their patrons.

Of course, I speak as somebody who has a personal computer and Netflix. I'll bet for the locals who don't have a computer and maybe don't even have the internet, the ability to go to the library and watch movies is great. Maybe VHS tapes will stick around because libraries offer video players in rooms to watch the VHS there (at least, my library does.) I don't know, do all libraries have media watching rooms?


@Hawthorne - Aha! You've just named exactly the reason why I prefer DVDs over VHS tapes: the special features. All of the other advantages that people say about DVDs don't really matter to me that much.

Sure, DVDs have a clearer picture, but I'm one of those people who has nostalgia attached to a bit of crackle and tracking in my entertainment. Sure, the DVD disc will survive repeat playings way better than a VHS tape -- if you don't crack the fragile disc in half, something I'd love to see somebody even accomplish on purpose with a VHS tape.

Sure, you can convert the DVD into different languages and to have subtitles or not -- great for company, but generally I do most of my movie-watching alone.

Anyway, the extra features were the deal breaker for me. I've always loved extras about movies; I'm one of those people who bought the two VHS tape set of Jurassic Park to watch the documentary on that extra tape, and I catch documentaries on TV when I can.

Nowadays, the DVDs for most big Hollywood films come with anywhere from five to twelve documentaries each. Documentaries about the special effects, makeup, auditions for the actors, story concept from paper to screen -- this is really fascinating stuff! Hands down DVD beats VHS in that category, and since documentaries are that dear to me, I've made the VCR to DVD conversion.


@Azuza - VCR/DVD players are nothing to be ashamed of. I think they're a great way to ease those who are still accustomed to VHS tapes into using a DVD player. My parents also have a VCR/DVD combination player, mostly to watch the old VHS tapes they still have from back before DVD got big.

Some of these movies are childhood favorites of mine that do not have any DVD release because they're kind of obscure. One of these days, mom and dad will have to get themselves one of those VHS to DVD converters and finally make the full switch over to DVD, but for now the VHS tapes don't get too worn out too quick since most of the ones with sentimental value are things like Christmas movies that we only watch once per year.

They have made one big step in the right direction, though -- they stopped buying any more VHS tapes. Movie purchases are only DVD now. The switch has been easy to encourage, since my parents love to watch the background information on DVDs, such as documentaries on how movies are made, and DVDs come loaded with special features that VHS tape sets usually had to include another whole tape to offer.


@Icecream17 -That is hard to believe that there are still VHS tapes floating around. I wanted to say that another good thing about DVD players is the ability to convert old VHS tapes into DVD CD’s. I have a lot of family movies that were recorded on VHS tapes that I now transferred over to a DVD.

The advantage with a DVD tape is that the tape does not degrade like a VHS tape does. After a while a VHS tape will develop lines and the colors will fade. I think that switching these VCR tapes to DVD tapes was the best thing I ever did because I do want to preserve these family memories.


@Subway11 - That is so nice that they were able to enjoy the movie. I sometimes get frustrated when I go to the library and they still have VHS tapes. I don’t own a VHS player and I would not even know where to get one in order to watch these movies. They do have a nice selection of these movies in the library, but there is really no way to watch them.


@Lonelygod -I agree with you. I have to say that I made the switch from VCR tapes to DVD tapes about thirteen years ago when DVD’s were the hottest thing to hit the market. At the time DVD players were really expensive but my husband is an electronics junkie and had to have these DVD players.

I think that there is a definite difference between the clarity of a VHS tape and a DVD tape. The DVD is so much clearer and I love that I can change the language options and add subtitles to a DVD movie. Years ago, I remember that I had my mother along with my aunt and uncle over and they were able to watch “The Nutty Professor” in Spanish which was great.

They loved the movie and had a great time. I would not have ever been able to do this with a VHS tape.


I think switching from a VCR to a DVD player was one of the best moves I have made. I love collecting movies and found my collection too bulky but DVDs fixed that with their sleek design.

Another great thing about DVD players and DVDs are the great interactive menus they have so that you can really feel more in touch with your films. Nothing is more fun than wandering around a well designed DVD with lots of extras like outtakes, games and interviews with cast members. I think that this kind of interaction just wasn't possible with VCRs so I am glad to see them go.


I remember working at a video store when they made the big switch from video cassettes to DVDs. It was really amazing to watch our old VCRs go and the new DVD players come in.

Nowadays it is really hard to find video cassettes to rent, though there are still a few niche places to look if your are really determined. There is one place in our town that still has a selection of video cassettes, but I think it is more due to financial issues rather than choice. Considering how cheap DVDs are, the presence of VHS really surprises me.

I think the biggest difference between a VCR and DVD player is the quality you get for your money. With some new DVD players running as low as $30, you can't lose buying one. It makes me wonder how long stores can hold out before they have to switch.


@JaneAir - The DVD player and the TiVo do sound like a pretty unbeatable combination!

However, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I actually kept my VCR/DVD combo player. Whenever I want to record something I still use a VHS tape. I guess old habits die hard!


I was a little hesitant at first to make the switch from VCR to DVD player but I must admit DVD's are much better. I really enjoy being able to skip from scene to scene or fast forward very quickly. It's also nice not to have to rewind when you're done watching!

I do kind of miss having the ability to record like I did on my VCR. However I think I may just break down and get a TiVo which would probably solve that problem!

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